Transnationalism: A New Mode of Immigration Integration

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Immigrant transnationalism can take many forms, be it the regular phone calls a cab driver makes to relatives and loved ones in his native country, the daily transactions of an immigrant entrepreneur who continues to manage business endeavors back in India, remittance transfers, or one of many other forms. Broadly speaking, immigrant transnationalism refers to the regular engagement in activities that span national borders by foreign-born residents as part of their daily routines. It is important to note that this definition distinguishes regular engagement in economic, political, and socio-cultural activities from more occasional or one-off engagement such as the rare trip to the home country or a singular cross-border monetary transaction.

Transcript of Transnationalism: A New Mode of Immigration Integration

  • Transnationalism: A New Mode of Immigrant Integration by Alvaro Lima | September 17, 2010 INTRODUCTION Immigrant transnationalism can take many forms, be it the regular phone calls a cab driver makes to relatives and loved ones in his native country, the daily transac- tions of an immigrant entrepreneur who continues to manage business endeavors back in India, remittance transfers, or one of many other forms. Broadly speaking, immigrant transnationalism refers to the regular engagement in activities that span national borders by foreign-born residents as part of their daily routines. It is im- portant to note that this definition distinguishes regular engagement in economic, political, and socio-cultural activities from more occasional or one-off engagement such as the rare trip to the home country or a singular cross-border monetary transaction. This concept is a relatively new one in that it seeks to capture the frequent and durable participation of immigrants in the economic, political, and cultural lives of their home countries a phenomenon only made possible by advances in trans- portation and communication technologies over the past two decades that were unavailable to previous generations of migrants.1 Transnationalism is not character- istic of all immigrant groups and it varies across and within groups with significant differences in the scope and range of transnational activities. Nor does it prevent immigrants integration into their new communities. In reality, researchers have found that the more integrated an immigrant is, the more transnational he or she is likely to be. Professor Alejandro Portes (2007) found, for example, that it is the better educated and the more comfortably established migrants who are the most likely to engage in transnational activities. The first and foremost reason why transnationalism deserves attention is its sheer growth in recent years. Its existence is highly relevant to the modern workings of global cities.Therefore, a transnational framework gives policymakers a new lens with which to develop innovative public programs, and public-private partnerships across borders. And because of the economic implications of transnationalism, it provides opportunities for businesses, social entrepreneurs, and governments.
  • 2 The Mauricio Gastn Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston, 100 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125 | T. 617.287.5790 The range of activities that transnationalism comprises provides an alternative and, some argue, an especially promising route for immigrant wealth creation through entrepreneurship and employment (Portes, 2010).Transnational activities can pro- mote higher levels of multiculturalism by creating and preserving hybrid cultural forms.With this in mind, it is clear that transnationalism has broad implications for notions of community, personal identity, and economic development. Finally, transnationalism challenges traditional theories of assimilation, which as- sume that immigrants who are more fully integrated into their host societies are less likely to continue to involve themselves in the economic, social, and political spheres of their countries of origin. In this article, we first explore the relationship between globalization, immigration, and transnationalism and examine the main drivers of the transnational phenome- non.We then define immigrant transnational activities and investigate the relation- ship between transnationalism and immigrant integration.We conclude by tracing broad implications for policymaking. Globalization, Immigration, and Transnationalism Transnationalism has significant implications for the way we conceptualize immi- gration.Traditionally, immigration has been seen as an autonomous process, driven by conditions such as poverty and overpopulation in the country of origin and unrelated to conditions (such as foreign policy and economic needs) in the receiv- ing country. Even though overpopulation, economic stagnation, and poverty all continue to create pressures for migration, they alone are not sufficient to produce large international migration flows.There are many countries, for example, which, despite longstanding poverty, lack significant emigration history.Also, most inter- national immigration flows from the global South to the global North are not made up by the poorest of the poor, but, in general, by professionals.Additionally, there are countries with high levels of job creation that continue to witness large- scale emigration. It is not safe to assume that the reasons and catalysts for migration are wholly em- bodied within the country of origin. Instead, they are embedded within broader geopolitical and global dynamics. Significant evidence of geographic migration patterns suggests that receiving countries become home to immigrants from the receiving countrys zone of influence. Immigration, then, is but a fundamental component of the process of capitalist expansion, market penetration, and global- ization. There are systematic and structural relations between globalization and immigration. The emergence of a global economy has contributed both to the creation of pools of potential emigrants abroad and to the formation of economic,cultural,and ideo- logical links between industrialized and developing countries that subsequently serve as bridges for international migration. For example, the same set of circumstances and processes that have promoted the location of factories and offices abroad have also contributed to the creation of a large supply of low-wage jobs for which immigrant workers constitute a desirable labor supply. Moreover, the decline of manufacturing jobs and the growth of the service sector, key drivers of the globalization of production, have transformed western economies occupational and income structure.
  • The Mauricio Gastn Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston, 100 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125 | T. 617.287.5790 3 Unlike the manufacturing sector, which traditionally supplied middle-income jobs and competitive benefits, the majority of service jobs are either extremely well- paid or extremely poorly paid,with relatively few jobs in the middle-income range. Many of the jobs lack core benefits such as health insurance. Sales representatives, restaurant wait staff, administrative assistants, and custodial workers are among the growth occupations. Finally, the fact that the major growth sectors rather than declining sectors are generating the most low-wage jobs indicates that the supply of such jobs will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.To meet this demand, the influx of migrant workers will likewise continue.This influx,in turn,provides the raw mate- rial out of which transnational communities emerge. Drivers of Transnationalism The foremost driver of transnationalism has been the development of technologies that have made transportation and communication infinitely more accessible and affordable, thus dramatically changing the relationship between people and places. It is now possible for immigrants to maintain more frequent and closer contact with their home societies than ever before. However,another crucial driver for transnationalism has been the fact that interna- tional migrations have become integral to the demographic future of many devel- oped countries. Beyond simply filling a demand for low-wage workers, migration also fills the demographic gaps created by declining natural populations in most industrialized countries.Today,migration accounts for 3/5 of population growth in western countries as a whole.And this trend shows no sign of slowing down.2 Additionally, global political transformations and new international legal regimes have weakened the state as the only legitimate source of rights. Decolonization, coupled with the fall of communism and the ascendance of human rights, have forced states to take account of persons qua persons, rather than persons qua citi- zens.As a result, individuals have rights regardless of their citizenship status within a country.
  • 4 The Mauricio Gastn Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston, 100 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125 | T. 617.287.5790 Traditional and Transnational Lenses There has also been a cultural shift,fostered by global production and consumption, which has blurred the distinction between what is native and what is foreign,creat- ing hybrid cultures that have taken the place of folkloric romanticism and political nationalism as the dominant essence of national cultures. Immigrant Transnational Activities and Communities When immigrants engage in transnational activities, they create social fields that link their country of origin with their new country or countries of residence.These social fields are the product of a series of interconnected and overlapping economic, political, and socio-cultural activities: Traditional Lenses immigration conceptualized as a bi- polar relation between sending and receiving countries (moving from there to here); emigration is the result of individual search for economic opportunity, political freedom, etc.; migrants are assumed to be the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses; immigrants occupy low-skilled jobs in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing; immigrants steadily transfer their contextual focus,and their econom- ic and social activities to receiving country; immigration should not bring about significant change in the receiving society. Transnational Lenses immigration conceptualized as flows of cross-border economic, political, and social-cultural activities (being here and there); emigration is the result of geopo- litical interests, global linkages, and economic globalization; migrants are n